Tiger Woods was in the media center at Muirfield Village Golf Club, home of Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament. He comes in having only played five events so far this year, beginning with his Hero Challenge (T17) in December and ending a couple of weeks ago at The Players Championship (T69). His swing is still a work in process, but as always, he comes into the week optimistically:
I feel very good, very good about the changes we’ve made. And we’ve just implemented a couple new things. But it’s still evolving, but it’s getting better. It’s nice to see.
It’s not a red flag that he’s still putting new things in at this late date, but it does run the risk of playing with a swing that’s not quite ready in his mind. That can absorb his mind in his swing and take his mind off his shots. He knows that, of course. The trick is balancing the two. And it’s not like he’s never done it before, but it will be interesting to see how consistent his shots are early in the first round.
He’s been working at it, but it’s been around his kids’ soccer games:
I took a little bit of time off right after the Players. It was the height of our soccer season, I love soccer, so I was focused on that. And tried to eat a lot and get my weight back up. And then we started some pretty good practice.
And then kind of off topic, he was asked about the challenges of bringing kids to the game. His answer isn’t particularly relevant to the Memorial, but it was very interesting to find out about his father’s clever scheme to keep him engaged in the game as a young kid:
I did the same thing with Charley [his son] that my dad did with me, and went out and played. And Medalist is a hard golf course for us. It’s marsh everywhere, it’s all about forced carries.
And my dad, when I played, I was so little, I mean a par‑4 is not a par‑4. It’s not two shots and on and two‑putt. So my dad created my own par. So every time I would play the hole, whatever shots it took me to get to the green, reasonably, plus two. So sometimes it was a par 12.
And as I got older and I got bigger, it became like a par 10, par 9, it kept dropping. And that’s what I did with Charley and he enjoyed it, because he’s now — is this for a birdie? Yeah, it is. You chip this in or make this putt for birdie, it’s a birdie.
Forget the number. It’s about them enjoying the attention that it takes to try to get to par. And that’s what we do out here. That’s what we all do as players, but kids don’t really think of it.
What my dad did was genius because it kept me interested. It kept me focused on, my dad shot 2‑over par and I shot 3, and I almost beat him. Even though I was making 11 and 12 on holes, but in relation that’s about right.
And then a funny moment when someone noted that the word was that Charley had a pretty good swing:
He’s got some parts in his swing that I’m trying to do (laughter). It’s a little frustrating at times.
And then there was a great tutorial on Nicklaus-designed courses. It helps to know this about his courses because it helps to understand why the players who are playing well are hitting their shots where they do:
Well, if you look at most of Jack’s golf courses, you have to think your way around it. And he gives you some open places on some of the tee shots, but the greens are always complex and you have to miss balls in correct spots. You’ve got to have the ability to hit the ball high.
Most of the winners here at Memorial, especially, have been high ball hitters. It’s rare to get a low ball hitter, but then again it gets soft and you can get away with it. But generally you have to hit the ball high.
And then, with many of the players having made the pilgrimage to Chambers Bay Golf Club near Tacoma, Washington, for U.S. Open practice rounds, everyone was getting grilled on their impressions, including Tiger:
It’s very challenging in the sense that Mike [Davis, Executive Director of the USGA] has so many options that he can present us as challenges off the tees or into the greens. There are so many different numbers that you have to know off the tees and how that’s going to play. There’s just so many options.
Generally you look at old school U.S. Opens, it’s narrow fairways, high rough, miss it, hack out, try and make a par from the fairway.
At Chambers, there’s so many different landing areas and aggressive or passive lines, run the ball up, 40 feet, 50 feet, even sometimes 30 yards right of the green or left of the green, and it comes back ten feet. It’s a different type of golf course. We don’t even see this in British Opens because [the greens] are not banked like this.
Yeah, I understand that you can run the ball up on every hole. You have the opportunity to be able to have the opportunity to run it up, but some of the holes you can’t because they’re too long or too steep, they’re up the hill too much. We spent a lot of time there, a lot of homework, a lot of getting numbers, getting a feel for how we’re going to play it because there’s so many different options.
I think that’s where Mike was trying to allude to earlier is you need to get there and play a lot, because he is going to present you with so many different challenges, so many different options.
Sounds like a thinking man’s U.S. Open. At least it helps us to understand why the players chose the shots they did.
One of the things that happened as the players began thinking about planning their preparation for the Open was that Davis suggested that they not skimp on the number of practice rounds they played; that there was more to it than they are used to. And I thought Tiger’s explanation of his trip out there was some pretty good “Inside Baseball” stuff:
Well, I thought it was interesting that he would say something like that, because normally — at Olympic, he changed a few things, and we were going to be forced to make some adjustments.
But when Mike says something like that, you got to pay attention to it, because he’s an extremely bright man. And we got out there and it was — it was like, oh, my God, there’s so many different options here. You have to know. We spent — I don’t take a long time in practice rounds, but we played in three and a half hours, just the front nine, had lunch, kind of sat down there and talked about it and played another three and a half on the back. So we spent a while.
And the next day, yesterday, was a little bit quicker, because we knew what to do, what to expect, what lines to take. We just knew how to play the golf course.
And the conversation even got down to the quality of the bunkers, a significant factor when you play a course, but not one you’d normally invest this much thought in:
It’s black sand. It’s a little bit different in color. I probably can’t say it’s going to be like this during The Open, but we played when it was raining, so it was a little muddy. There were different — how can I put it — different densities to it. Some balls bounced out of there, some dug. But all the bunkers there around the greens we were able to spin, so that’s — you don’t always find that out of some bunkers where you’re able to feel like you can hit — no matter how long a shot it is, you can hit a spinner in there.
He shared his aspirations for the week and the future…
It’s about peaking at the right time, getting everything organized. The main thing is I want to be able to start playing again, being in contention with a chance to win. I’d like to get there more often and give myself more opportunities to win.
…and his level of comfort in accomplishing that:
[I’m] a lot more comfortable coming into this week than certainly the Players. We had to do some pretty good work going into the Players. But this one’s a little bit easier.
As in every event Tiger plays, we’ll all be glued to the television, like moths to a flame.